Lunch with a forgotten stranger (entry for 2/10/09 Writer's Cramp)
"What's my name?" the elderly gent repeated, a quaver in his thin voice, "I... I'm afraid I can't recall my name. In fact, I can't recall much of anything. I seem to have gotten lost, somehow."
I lived in a gated, covenant-controlled community "anchored" by an Alzheimer's care facility; my father lived there. Prospective residents of the community were told about the facility and informed that keeping an eye out for the residents was one of the requirements of living here, a kind of variation on the "It takes a village..." concept. If you visited someone at the home, the staff prepared them for the visit, so it was okay to refer to their condition and the reason they were in the care facility. If they were feeling well enough to walk around, though, residents were asked to not directly mention things that might upset the patients, like the fact that they had Alzheimer's.
It was the third time this month that I'd spotted the gentleman walking down the street and had interrupted his meandering. I recalled the instructions I'd been given and resolved to follow them as best I could; follow-on conversations could wait. It was all well and good for them to extol the virtues of how the fresh air and personal interaction away from the home were beneficial, and to point out that he usually headed directly for my street - and that he was always discreetly observed from a distance. I still had some concerns about the home's residents 'wandering around', our safe little community notwithstanding.
"Well, how about we check your pockets and see if we can find any clues," I suggested, trying to give him an easily achievable goal, hoping to generate some small feeling of being in control. "Meanwhile, how about a sandwich and some iced tea?"
The fellow politely accepted my offer, then began reaching into each pocket of his sports coat, finding various scraps of paper in each of them until, with a small cry of triumph, he drew a business card from the inside pocket and held it up. I recognized the logo.
"'Samuel Edwards, Elkton Estates, 1241 North Maple'," he read aloud. "and there's a phone number, too. Is it near here?"
"It's a retirement-type home just a couple of blocks east of here; I guess you live there. I'll drive you over after we eat, okay?"
"If it's no bother, I'd really appreciate it, young man. You're very kind."
"I'm glad to do it. C'mon, let's get at those sandwiches."
As we ate, the old man told me what he could remember from decades gone by: stories of the Great Depression and World War Two, and a life spent working in a factory. There weren't many real details in his rambling narratives, just general impressions of his past life, almost as though he was describing a history, not his history. Every so often, though, some random memory would surface to fill-in one of his stories. All in all, we shared a very nice afternoon.
Eventually, he finished his stories and his sandwich, and we climbed into my Jeep. It was a warm, sunny day, so I lowered the top and we drove over to the home. We pulled through the circular drive to the front entrance, where we were met by one of the staff.
"I most sincerely appreciate your kindness and hospitality," he said, shaking my hand. "Thanks again,..." An embarrassed look came over his face. "I'm terribly sorry, but now I seem to have forgotten your name."
"It's Carl, sir, Carl Edwards," I answered, as gently as I could manage, "and it was my pleasure."
"Carl. Carl. I'll remember it, you'll see," he said. Then he and the nurse turned and went inside.
I sighed and stared at the entrance for a moment.
"See you next time, Dad," I finally said to the closed doors. "I love you."